By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

Maryland’s Board of Public Works Jan. 8 approved changes to Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) “Traffic Relief Plan” for the Capital Beltway (I-495) and Interstate 270 north of Washington, D.C., allowing the state to begin soliciting proposals for its largest-ever highway expansion projects.

The board in June 2019 approved the conditional Public-Private Partnership (P3) for express toll lanes, but had to reconsider the proposal after the Hogan administration made changes in the fall. The amendments included implementing Maryland and Virginia’s Capital Beltway Accord to build a new American Legion Bridge.

“At a time when many of America’s roads and bridges are crumbling, and at a time of divisiveness and dysfunction in our politics today, this project is a testament to the balanced, all-inclusive approach Maryland is taking to improving and modernizing our infrastructure,” Hogan said in a news release.

State officials estimate contracts will be worth more than $9 billion, making the project one of the largest P3s in the country. Phase 1 of the project will be along I-495 from south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway to I-270 and along I-270 from I-495 to I-370. Other phases are pending environmental reviews.

Maryland faces an estimated $1.7 billion shortfall for preservation and improvements in its major Capital-area corridors, the state says.

Representatives of the Maryland Transportation Builders & Materials Association (MTBMA), ARTBA’s affiliated chapter in the state, spoke in favor of the proposal at the Board of Public Works’ hearing.  As the chapter reported, there was also discussion as to whether a project labor agreement (PLA), a union-only hiring mandate, would apply to the projects.  Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary-designee Greg Slater said that no PLA or other such mandate will be included, but there will instead be a “Community Benefit Agreement” intended – in part – to facilitate a dialogue about employment opportunities among the project developer and stakeholders such as MTBMA and labor unions.